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Posts Tagged ‘earthquake’

Finally, we know what it takes to knock the seamy, scuzzy antics of Charlie Sheen out of the headlines:  a one-two-three punch of a horrific earthquake, devastating tsunami, and unimaginable nuclear crisis in Japan.  I don’t believe in hell (or heaven, for that matter) but if there was one, it would be defined as what the Japanese people are experiencing now.  How could it be that a people who were bombed in the 1940s, whose family members were sickened from radiation poisoning or burned from the nuclear bombs that dropped on their countryside more than a generation ago, now have to live through the danger of radiation poisoning and death once again?

The nobility and quiet perseverance of the Japanese, which has been exhibited on the airwaves day after day, suggests that these people have reacted to this unspeakable set of disasters with more calm, dignity, and fortitude than most of us can begin to imagine.  The old Yiddish story, which tells us of a man who is dissatisfied with his little house — crowded with family, neighbors, and chickens —  ends with the reminder, “remember, if you think things are bad, they could always be worse!”

And in Japan, we see, on every news report, what worse looks like.  While Alan Paton’s remarkable 1948 book (which explored the evils of apartheid in South Africa) offered up the title for my reflection, his prose offers us a glimpse of the anguish and conflict that I suspect many of the citizens of Japan are feeling:

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.”

Our complex world struggles with finding ways to provide energy that will not increase the high levels of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants which threaten to choke us all.  And yet nuclear energy has its own risks, supposedly well-managed…except in the face of disasters that knock out power and destroy power facilities.  Now, in addition to the warnings that people stay indoors or evacuate affected areas of the country near the damaged nuclear reactors, reports of dangerously high radiation levels in the Japanese food supply are emerging, and people around the world are ready to hand over absurdly high amounts of money for a stash of iodine pills to ward off the threat of radiation poisoning.  The world economy has been damaged, as Toyota and other major corporations remain closed (and the lack of supply of goods from Japan makes it way down the line to corporations around the world, forcing them to close as well).  And — not the least of the concerns — the death toll in Japan has now passed 8,000 and is expected to exceed 10,000, and beautiful seaside towns and cities have been wiped off the map.

For every time that I think, “I wish I had…” or “Why can’t I…”, I think of what the Japanese in areas like Sendai must be enduring.  This reminder of the fragility of our existence, the nobility of people brought to their knees by the shaking earth, overpowering waves, and the failures of technology, jars all of us who whine about our troubles into understanding — at least at a surface level — what pure hell looks like.

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